San Domenico opened its doors on 7th March 1970 at the behest of Gianluigi Morini, a great lover of art and beauty.
Cinema is one of his favourite hobbies, along with cooking, which he cultivates by inviting friends
over for dinner and experimenting on them with his skills as a cook, sommelier and director.
He began to read up on restaurants in Italy and other countries, and came up with the idea of building a ‘made-to-measure’ restaurant. He did this towards the end of the 1960s in the premises of his father’s house, where he set up a restaurant with twenty tables, taking care of every single detail: from the walls covered in linen cloth to the crystal glasses and silver underplates to the fresh flowers every day.
In terms of food, San Domenico first tended to combine traditional flavours with the care and taste of home cooking.
Later, Morini turned to the experience of Nino Bergese, a great chef with a prestigious career in the kitchens of kings and powerful Italians and foreigners.
The idea was to give everyone the opportunity to get to know and appreciate the great cuisine of Italian aristocratic houses.
Bergese’s relationship with Valentino Marcattilii, the young chef who had taken over responsibility for the kitchen, was extraordinary and based on great understanding.
What ensued was a first case in Italy of a restaurant that cleared away the all-Romagna concept of the trattoria, in favour of a fine and refined experience that is no way inferior to that of its French cousins.
‘The guest must be respected: he comes to eat and to enjoy the flavour of our preparations.’
Back in 1917, Giacomo Bergese (1904-1977), aged just 13, joined Chef Giovanni Bastone (the future chef of the Agnelli family) at Count Bonvicino, thus beginning his career that would see him play a leading role in the kitchens of the most prestigious families of the Italian aristocracy and upper middle class. In 1926, when he was only 22 years old, he prepared lunch for Umberto di Savoia’s 22nd birthday: the Florentine chocolate-layered cake that the prince made him repeat for three days in a row was a great success, followed by numerous collaborations with aristocratic houses and bourgeois palaces. After the war, Bergese left the big families and retired to Genoa where, in an old carruggio (narrow alleyway) in the city centre, he opened ‘La Santa’ restaurant, where he is the owner and chef. He won two stars in the Michelin guide, the highest award, at the time, for Italy. It was Giangiacomo Feltrinelli who convinced him to collect the 513 most famous recipes in the book ‘Mangiare da re’ (Eat like a king). It was not easy for Morini to convince Bergese to start again at the San Domenico restaurant, as in 1972 he considered himself retired. But his arrival at San Domenico meant the crowning achievement of Morini’s ambitious and unique project.
He started at a very young age of 16 at the San Domenico restaurant as Nino Bergese’s assistant, working there for seven years until the master’s death. From this moment on, he began a series of internships at the most renowned restaurants in France and on his return, he took over the kitchen of the San Domenico restaurant, of which he is now also co-owner. Valentino offers a cuisine that combines great respect for tradition, freshness of local products, rigorous and simple preparation with efficient organisation. He introduced, for the first time in Italian catering, the idea of ‘home cooking’, which until then had been kept within the thick walls of patrician homes. Thus began his international consultancies at Monterey Plaza (California), Donatello Restaurant in San Francisco, La Main à La Pâte Restaurant in Paris, the Restaurant at Palm Bay Hotel in Miami and Conrad Hilton in Hong Kong. In the late 1980s, he participated in and hosted programmes for BBC and World Class (Channel 4). In June 1988, the San Domenico restaurant opened in New York at 240 Central Park South. Valentino took over the kitchens as executive chef. In July, Brian Miller, critic of the New York Times, awarded him 3 stars: an accolade he had never before given to an Italian restaurant.
‘Every so often I think of how many times Gino Paoli sang ‘Il cielo in una stanza’, or Gianni Morandi ‘C’era un ragazzo’. Here, I believe that they never got bored redoing their songs, on the contrary, I think they feel something beautiful inside them every time. The same thing, in my small way, happens to me when I prepare the dish of my life. I don’t get used to it.’
San Domenico is a place for people of heart, courage, culture, and passion.
An ever-changing restaurant, which holds firmly to its cultural roots while looking to the future and building a sustainable, virtuous, courageous restaurant-territory system.
La Saletta22 is a veritable chef’s table set in a room of its own, a private room with painstaking attention to every detail – elegantly decorated with dark ceramics, handcrafted furniture, artwork and soft lighting, all in shades of black, dark grey, brass, gold, and glass. Inside Saletta22 you can taste a blind menu designed at the moment by Max Mascia, with great wines and new proposals, created ad hoc and combined according to the seasons, the mood, the market. Every detail is taken care of by Max Mascia’s selected craftsmen: Rubelli canvas, Consani and Giannini leather goods, Drew drops Bomma chandelier, Terza Dimensione table from Imola, Garofoli furniture. The walls and floors are by Cooperativa Ceramica of Imola, the sculpture is by Carmelo Cappello and the wine cellar is by Cibin in San Dona di Piave. The project is signed Max Mascia together with Antonio Gasparri, A2 studio architects of Imola.
At San Domenico, Morini personally and passionately takes care of every single detail: the walls and ceilings are covered in linen decorated in the pre-Raphaelite style of William Morris, the tablecloths are made of fuchsia linen and the total of twenty tables are set with silver underplates, candlesticks, ceramic plates, and fine crystal glasses. The furnishings are by Thonet, Frau and Cassina, while on the walls stand out works of art by some of the greatest artists of contemporary Italian art from Alberto Burri to Mario Schifano, from Giuseppe Capogrossi to Piero Dorazio, with a special focus on Imola artists such as Mario Guido Dal Monte, Tonino Gottarelli, Andrea Raccagni and Germano Sartelli.